Minneapolis • Raja Bell has read the Jazz's pulse this season better than anyone not named Jerry Sloan or Deron Williams and has outlasted both.
When Utah soared to a 27-13 record and the postseason appeared to be an unretractable promise, the veteran guard joined Sloan and Williams in pointing out the team's troubling flaws. After Sloan walked away and Williams was traded, the 34-year-old Bell became a confessional screen, offering unflinching criticism during moments when neither he nor his team lived up to potential.
"I've kind of tried to put this experience somewhere in all the ones that I've had and see if there have been any other kind of similar to it," said Bell, prior to Utah's 96-94 come-from-behind road victory Wednesday against Toronto. "And this is an entity of itself. I'd put it over there on the side. Just cause it's been a little different and there's been a lot of stuff going on."
An hour before tipoff against the Raptors, Bell conceded that little has gone as expected this year for him or his team. He split the Jazz into two components: pre-Sloan and Williams and post. He acknowledged his own struggles, fleshing out revealing occasions this season when he has wondered if he has "lost it," only to bounce back with swished jumpers and defiant stares. More than anything, though, Bell asserted that he was still holding himself and his teammates to as high a level of accountability as possible as the playoffs approach.
Few believe that Utah can make an impact in the postseason, while some have used Bell as a punching bag during the Jazz's downward slide. Bell? He just kept hitting away.
"We're a struggling team. But that's not a secret. It's not like I'm telling anyone anything they don't already know," Bell said. "It is what it is. It's never fun when you're in the middle of something and you're trying to figure it out, and you take a step forward and then a step back; two steps forward and two steps back. It's been pretty inconsistent, and that's never fun. But that's where we are."
But where is Bell? He was livid following an embarrassing 22-point blowout road loss Monday to the New York Knicks; he had become good friends with Williams and held Sloan in respect; and his own season has been colored by sharp peaks and deep valleys.
The proud, intelligent 11-year veteran can read the Jazz like a tenured professor. But he knows himself even better, and is even harder on his own game.
His step has slowed and his straight-as-an-arrow shot lacks the piercing sharpness that made him deadly from the field and beyond the arc from 2004-09. However, Bell often has pointed out that his shot attempts have been drastically decreased in Utah's system, and he simply has played the role that has been required of him.
Bell is not done. Retirement has yet to cross and stay in his mind. And the proud, edgy fighter has no intention of backing down anytime soon.
Which was clearly evident against the Raptors, when Bell finished with just five points on 2-of-8 shooting but recorded a game-high 45 minutes and provided lock-down defense during a fourth quarter that saw Utah outscore Toronto 26-16.
"I can only speak for myself, but I haven't cashed it in," Bell said.
Jazz at Timberwolves
P At Target Center,Minneapolis
Tipoff • Friday, 6 p.m.
TV • FSN Utah
Radio • 1320 AM, 1600 AM,98.7 FM
Records • Jazz 34-31,Timberwolves 16-50
Last meeting • Jazz, 112-107(Dec. 22, 2010)
About the Jazz • Utah c Coach Tyrone Corbin attributed the fact that only three players scored more than five points Wednesday during a road win against Toronto to his team's injuries and an inconsistent lineup. Al Jefferson, Devin Harris and C.J. Miles combined for 80 of the Jazz's 96 points.
About the Timberwolves • Forward Kevin Love (knee) did not practice Thursday and is a game-time decision. … Minnesota is 1-3 in its last four games and is tied with Sacramento for the worst record in the West.